The FIM Motocross World Championship travels to Scandinavia in early August. For Antti Pyrhönen, manager of the Kawasaki Racing Team, the 16th round at Hyvinkää is particularly poignant.
Antti has been an MXGP team manager for 10 years now after a successful career as a rider during which he was crowned with an MX3 GP victory in his native Finland. Motocross has played a significant part in Antti’s life since he was a child; he discovered the sport very close to home as his family lives in Hyvinkää.
“That’s a really long time ago, but I remember how I discovered motocross as if it was only yesterday! I was six-years-old. There was a Motocross Grand Prix in Hyvinkää and already before the race I went with my father to watch riders training there. The riders also did some start training and we were really close to the starting-gate; I was so impressed and I fell in love with motocross immediately. It was the first time I had ever seen motocross but since then my heart revolves around motocross,” remembered Antti, who went home that evening convinced that this was the sport for him.
“My mind was hooked on motocross and every day I was asking my dad when we could go to the track again. Finally it happened; there was a national championship race later that year and I was again so impressed with the sound, the speed, the jumps, the bikes. For a young kid it was such a strong experience.”
Winters are pretty long in Finland, and that’s not the ideal conditions to practice any outdoor sport but Antti didn’t care and had only one thing on his mind. “Winter came and quite soon I was asking my father for a bike. I got an old bike as a Christmas present and it was so great that I couldn’t wait until the Spring to be able to ride it in a sandy area. I had really lost my heart to motocross; every day I was asking my dad ‘Can I go riding?’, waiting for him to come home from work every evening.”
Due to his tender years Antti was not yet able to enter races, but month-in, month-out he trained hard to prepare for his first race. “In Finland at that time you could start racing on 80cc bikes, and you could race the year that you reach your twelfth birthday. I am born in September so in 1990 I could start racing when I was eleven; as my father was busy with his business he had no time to take care about the paperwork and documents so I did that all by myself! I called the federation to get more information and one day I came to my father with the complete proposal.
I brought him my licence, my motorcycle club documents, my entries for the races and I told him that we could go racing! I was already taking care of all of the administrative documents by myself, and finally I could enter my first race at Kouvola. I went there with high hopes, expecting to win the race, but there were some boys with much more experience who beat me by a full lap …. I was so disappointed; I couldn’t understand that I was not fast enough but of course it was normal as I had no racing experience. That’s how it started,” explained Antti who then worked hard to be ever more competitive. The fact that nobody in his family had ever been involved in motocross was no deterrent and, thanks to his persistence, he advanced step-by-step to the world of GP racing.
“From there to the GPs was a very long road, especially as my family didn’t know anything about motocross. Of course they supported me, but we needed to learn everything by ourselves. Indeed it came pretty fast as I rode my first race in 1990 and already entered my first-ever Grand Prix in 1995 at Ruskeasanta in Finland. I was working really hard for my sport and in 2000, when I won the 125cc European title, I was able to sign a professional deal with a Dutch team.”
He raced GPs from 2001 to 2012, with two podiums at the Motocross of Nations (2002 and 2003) and a double-moto-victory in the Finnish MX3 GP at Vantaa on his way to third overall in the 2009 MX3 World Championship as his best results. Antti raced during his career for private teams, for factory squads and finally for his own team during the last couple of seasons; he has always been well-organised so this was yet another useful experience for him.
“Indeed it’s been really helpful to be so organised from an early age, especially as when you live in Finland you need to arrange all the tickets, to book ferries and so on just to get to the races. You need to be really organised, also financially as Finland was having a tough time at the beginning of the 1990s and it was very expensive to go training and racing in Europe.
You needed to find sponsors to support you, and of course all this experience helps me now. I learnt a lot watching how teams were working – both the good things and the bad things – and when I was racing I also had my own company in Finland with fitness centres. I was running this business and it also helped a lot to know how to manage a company with financial documents and so on, so I felt I was ready to take on the role of team manager. But everyday we still learn and keep learning,” he acknowledged.
It’s a happy prospect to soon be back for a few days in his native city for a round of the World Championship.
“It’s really nice that Finland is again able to organise a GP, especially at Hyvinkää. For us as a team it doesn’t make any difference from the work aspect as we are a factory team racing all over the world, but at least I will have the opportunity to see my family for just the second time since Christmas!” he added with a big smile on his face.
The last Finnish rider to win a GP (the 2009 MX3 GP of Finland at Vantaa), he would of course like to see more compatriots racing GPs in the future.
“We have some famous drivers in rally and Formula One racing, and also had very famous and strong motocross riders in the past. It’s difficult to explain why we don’t have young kids going further than European level at the moment but of course I wish that in the future we could see some Finnish riders in the MXGP class,” concluded Antti.